The Sunday News
As I continue to interrogate Stonehenge as a Neolithic megalithic monument, I have decided to park one aspect, namely the Station Stones and their related cultural structures. I need more information to reflect on, analyse and interpret the components. What I do recognise is that restricting analysis and interrogation to Stonehenge translates to a narrow view of a cultural landscape that is much wider in geographical extent.
Only a more holistic approach that takes on board the various aspects can yield a more convincing and more objective analysis out of which should emerge sustainable interpretation. As argued before, the purposes of a cultural landscape are related one to the other and are never in contradiction to each other. Just how do we hope to describe a bull when we confine ourselves to its scrotum and contents thereof?
This article continues to focus the inquisitive spotlight on the sharing and transmission of knowledge and information from one generation to the next. However, this time we have decided to take a broader view of the subject. It is being argued here that the first step in the process is knowledge generation or creation.
That, in my view, is a mental process resulting from lived experiences and hypothesizing about life and the environment in general. The environment, be it the hydrosphere, the pedosphere, the atmosphere and the cosmic sphere impact on the mind which seeks, among other aims and objectives, perpetuation at both individual and community levels. As articulated in an earlier article, knowledge is never acquired equally among human beings.
There is thus need to share that knowledge for purposes of social cohesion, a shared culture and worldview. Before transmission, knowledge should be archived or stored before it is transmitted. It is important to look at how communities and societies have, over the millennia, preserved knowledge and information. As we interrogate the topic, we should not lose focus that our interest lies in the interpretation of Stonehenge and related megalithic structures. It is my contention that different communities devised different ways, means and strategies to deal with the same objective.
The assumption is that there is some shared view of the world and its inhabitants and processes. Let us now give some rundown of some of these. We choose to begin with the megalithic structures which essentially are made of monumental stores. Stones, in terms of geological content, orientation in situ, size and a lot more attributes present some architecture, which is a language of architects, designers and indeed the community at large. Monuments have a language, that of the creators and builders or constructors.
There is language of individual stones, of stones in their relatedness and their resulting designs. Monuments constitute architecture that expresses knowledge, belief systems, a worldview and a lot more regarding the creators and builders of a given monument. There are always purposes behind a built environment. All that is required is possession of a language, an interpretive language of megalithic structures.
In addition to the megalithic structures, communities found other ways of using stones to preserve knowledge and information. Sculptured stones bore messages through a known, recognised and enduring medium. Stone is characterised by solidity that imbues it with some attribute of endurance. Engraved designs have a language, a language that has been imparted on to rock, some form of enduring written messages. Some of these messages are engraved, painted, moulded or drawn in sheltered rock caves where weather elements are eliminated.
The result is enduring messages whose meaning lasts for as long as there has been some arrangements to ensure preserved knowledge and information have been shared. It has been found that on some megalithic structures, there are sonic knobs that transmit communication messages when tapped, spoken into and the requisite arrangements have been made. It is important that the seemingly meaningless messages are understood if they are to be identified as dependable and usable knowledge that is of value to future generations.
Sometimes this does not happen and we choose to wear our cultural lenses to attempt interpretations of cultural landscapes or stone monuments.
It is not stones alone that communities have used to preserve information and knowledge. Clay has been used in the form of tablets with inscriptions. The tablets may be fired, a process that alters the physical arrangements of their molecules and impart on them some attribute of endurance. In addition to engraving, tablets may carry painted images, and moulded designs.
Wood is another medium that has been used to preserve information and knowledge. Artistic renditions on various media are ways of expressing a people’s culture. In fact, artistic renderings may take several forms such as painted walls of huts, motifs, symbols and icons on various artefacts, both functional and aesthetic. Hairdos, body tattoos are imbued with languages that express a people’s culture and history. Art is expressive culture.
Writing has been used to provide forms of information about the past. Scrolls have been retrieved from some limestone caverns and bear writing that may be interpreted and adds knowledge about a people’s past, in particular relating to their religious beliefs. Fossilised items, be it wood or clay, some of it buried in bogs have been retrieved. Both hieroglyphics and cuneiform are earliest forms of writing which have contributed immensely towards the preservation of history and knowledge of the ancients.
Orally literate communities have relied on icons, symbols and motifs to express and preserve their knowledge and culture. This was the case when African Americans were shipped out of Africa to the Caribbean islands and the United States of America. Molefi Kete Asante writes in the book, “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African-America 1619-2019,” “The interpreter was a seer, whose purpose was to make sense out of the familiar and the unfamiliar, so that the African population would be sustained by the integration of African motifs, icons, and values into the rifts of the new place.”
The language of Africans dwelt on their artefacts, their architecture, their sculptures and the symbolic expressions on their artefacts. The mind created and deposited a language. The hand obeyed the mind and executed representations of its language on various surfaces such as wood, bone, horn, clay stone, eggshell, human skin, and leather. In addition to these, they relied on oral traditions such as folklore, folktales, performances such as poetic renditions, incantations, historical narrations and a lot more.
Their history was documented through their names and naming rituals. Their choices of names depended and reflected upon events taking place around a baby’s birth. Even their games carried deeper meanings than is generally assumed. Some traditional games were applied in military strategies to maximize effective and efficient deployment of military personnel with a view to minimising personnel losses.
Other than in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and a few other countries such as Mali, there was a limited presence of megalithic monuments that read cosmic images orientations and alignments as they affected events and activities on earth. It is worth observing that African Spirituality did not require megalithic structures and today it is still a phenomenon to observe that African Apostolic and Zionist churches do not rely on big church buildings for their spiritual expressions.
Open spaces, sites underneath huge trees and mountaintops seem adequate for their purposes.
Seeing as the cosmic movements and phenomena were critical to track, how did Africans cope in the absence of megalithic calendars such as Stonehenge? I will argue that Africans equally needed and relied upon similar knowledge and information.
Their calendars were in their spiritual minds. Their spiritual persons had the capacity to keep track of events on the cosmic front. They knew when a new moon would appear. They knew when it was a day when the moon did not appear, elimnyama. For that, they did not rely on the material or visual eyes. Instead, they depended on spiritual “eyes” which scanned the past, the present and the future. However, this knowledge and epistemology elude the gatekeepers of this world’s knowledge.
The process that we have been bringing to the fore encompasses generation of knowledge, preservation of generated knowledge, developing a common language that understands preserved knowledge and that is followed by transmission of knowledge to future generations who make use of that knowledge so that they avoid have to reinvent the wheel, that is starting all over again. Just how many stages enunciated above are resident at Stonehenge and indeed, at other cultural landscapes whose interpretation we continue to seek? Are we provided with the Rosetta Stone to analyse, explain, and interpret the languages of ancients as they live through the various media?